There’s Been a Death.

by Leslie on November 11, 2016

American Flag Half Mast

It’s now Friday, which means it’s been three days since the election. Two and a half, really, since the results started pouring in. I remain stunned by the results. Donald Trump is our president-elect, and I am still sick about this fact. I don’t know when I will stop being sick about it.

This is definitely grief. It feels like someone died.

Social media has always been a toxic morass, but these past few days it’s been more so. I’ve seen several people uncloak themselves as Trump supporters. They kept quiet during the lead-up, but now that they’ve been vindicated, they’re piping up. “Get over it,” they say. “Your candidate lost. Grow up.”

This isn’t about my candidate losing.  “My” candidate has lost before. Plenty of times, in fact. In 1984 I was 5 months too young to vote, but I was keen on Mondale. He lost. In 1988, I cast my first vote in a presidential election for Dukakis. Also a big fat goose-egg there. Add to that 2000 and 2004. That’s four times my candidate has come up short in the election. It sucks. It’s dispiriting. But you accept the results and soldier on and know that you’ll get another crack at it in four years. “We survived Reagan and the Bushes, we can survive this,” people say.

This isn’t about any sort of illegitimacy of the election. Trump won fair and square. Sure, he didn’t get the popular vote but he got the Electoral vote and that’s how the game is played.

This isn’t even about the United States electing a person with zero political, legislative, or military experience.  That strikes me as mighty unwise, but hey, I’m American. I love a good underdog, “Average Joe” story. I’m a big fan of moonshots. The Constitution says only that you have to be a natural-born US citizen, at least 35 years old, and have lived here for 14 years. By those rules, Trump was qualified.

Here’s what’s breaking my heart, shocking my system, and leaving me in a quandary as to what to do next:

Over sixty million people heard Donald Trump call Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “killers.” They heard him call women “fat pigs”, “dogs” and “slobs.” They heard him openly brag about sexually assaulting women. They heard him call for a ban on Muslims entering the country. They heard him openly call for a foreign country to interfere with our election. They heard him repeat for years that Barack Obama was not an American, and then they heard him flat out deny he ever did so. They heard him say all of these things and more and they decided it was acceptable.

That’s the part that’s killing me. Not the political differences or trade agreements or opinions on climate change. I have opinions on those things and I think they’re terribly important, but I also accept that there are differing opinions on how and whether or not to resolve them. What’s killing me is that a huge portion of the country has willingly decided that someone who does this is the person they want representing them to the world.

There are many people who already knew the United States of America was like this. People of color, and LGBT advocates and Muslims already knew this America existed. I knew there were people out there who were like this, but I had no idea there was so many of them. I’m ashamed of my ignorance.

That’s what died. My innocence. My relationship with my country. I honestly thought we were better than this.

So don’t tell me to “suck it up” and “get over it.” There’s been a death. This will take some time.

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Advice for Beginning Writers

by Leslie on July 28, 2016

An online friend recently asked me for some writing advice. She’s new to writing and wants to get going on writing a book. She asked me how I found my writing voice and I thought Well, I found it through writing. When she asked me how long I’d been writing I did the math and was surprised at the answer:

43 years.

Holy shit.

Of all of my different interests, hobbies, adventures and explorations, writing is definitely the one I’ve done the most consistently, and had the most success at.

I’m really a writer.

Something about the realization that I’ve been doing this for 43 years made me feel really wise, experienced, and sage-y. So, since I’m such an experienced big shot writer now, gather round, children, and I’ll drop some knowledge (sorry, been listening to Hamilton NON-STOP).

Hamilton writing (The only royalty-free picture I could find of Alexander Hamilton “writing”.)

 

MY ADVICE FOR WRITERS

  1. WRITE – Writers write. Talking about writing is not writing. Worrying about writing is not writing. Only writing is writing. (Why do you write like you’re running out of time? Auuugh…these Hamilton earworms are eating my brain.)
  1. READ – Subscribe to Writers Digest. Read every issue. Read books about writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft are well-respected classics. Also, read like hell in the genre you aspire to write in.
  1. TAKE CLASSES – Look for local classes, online classes (WritersDigest.com has a lot.) Go to conferences. This is where you start to learn about craft.
  1. MAKE MISTAKES – You are supposed to make mistakes. You are supposed to write crap. That’s how you learn. Perfectionism will paralyze you.
  1. ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM – Most people who show their work to others and say “Give me your honest opinion.” do not mean it, even though they think they do. What they actually mean is “Tell me it’s good.” The challenge here is learning whose opinion is actually worth something and whose isn’t. It’s easy to get in with a group of other inexperienced writers and critique each other’s stuff, then start editing your work according to other’s opinions. How do you know who’s opinion is worthwhile and who’s isn’t? You don’t, generally. But if that person is an experienced author/editor/publisher in the field you want to work in, that’s going to give them more credibility than someone else who hasn’t written anything. Constructive criticism makes you a better writer.

That’s it. Gotta go write now, because I’m not sure if writing about writing counts as writing.

(That last sentence makes my brain hurt if I look at it too long.)

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FEEDING THE MEDIA BEAST

by Leslie on July 19, 2016

I blame Ted Turner.

For those of you under 45 years of age, allow me to explain:  In 1980, media mogul Ted Turner founded Cable News Network, better known by its acronym CNN, the first 24-hour cable news channel. At that time, cable television was still in its infancy. The vast majority of Americans watched broadcast television, which was still being beamed into their homes via radio wave, much as it had been for the preceding 30-odd years. News was broadcast during a specific time slot, usually around the dinner hour. Local news would also have an hour in the morning and at bedtime.

That was pretty much it. Barring a major incident, like presidents being shot, you pretty much got your television news once a day. Three times a day if you were hardcore.  And you pretty much had three channels on which to watch it.

The upside of this setup was that reporters and journalists had time to gather the facts on their stories. To vet their sources. And because their time was limited, they had to determine which items were truly newsworthy. That’s a real word, and if you look at it you can see the inference that the news was somewhat lofty. Information had to be worthy of its gaze.

The downside? Well, one could argue that such highfalutin’ (also a real word) gatekeepers kept a lot of important things from being told. You can look back at historical reports of “gentleman’s agreements” between the press and, say, President Kennedy’s serial philandering. Worse, look at William R. Hearst’s journalistic engineering of the Spanish-American war. There are definitely serious downsides to having an elite and powerful few control the media.

So, old Ted Turner decides to start a 24-hour news channel. Nothing but news, all day and all night. It was a revolutionary idea. When news was happening, you could go watch it instantly. The Challenger disaster? CNN was the only network to air that happening in real time. The Gulf War? It made CNN journalist Arthur Kent a poster boy (remember his nickname? “The Scud Stud”) The U.S. hadn’t had that type of breathtaking real-time on-the-scene reporting since Edward R. Murrow reported from Europe during WWII.

But then there was Baby Jessica. Anybody remember Baby Jessica? In 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell down a 22-foot well in her aunt’s backyard. CNN was on the scene. It was, to be fair, a heartbreaking story. A little tot jammed into a deep hole with no easy way to get her out. If you want to be reminded of the saga here’s the Wikipedia link. Long story short: they got her out. She survived and lived happily ever after.

The story completely riveted the nation. Why? Well, (ha!) besides the obvious dramatic pull of the scenario, CNN was all over the story. And because this relatively new 24-hour news channel was still at the time the only game in town, we could watch it in real time and feel as if we were there. We were a part of it.

I’ve worked in media. I’ve even worked in a newsroom. Here’s an interesting thing about working in media. You need content.

When you’ve only got 5 minutes at the top of every hour for the news (as I did back in my radio days) you must sift. We had an AP news feed (it was something like Twitter but instead of reading it on a computer screen everything was literally printed out in a continuous feed on a dot-matrix printer and wow do I feel old now) that we used for our national stories and we had to (literally) sift through it to determine which stories we would report. In other words, our supply of news was usually greater than our time demanded. We could be picky.

Now take that same scenario but instead of 5 minutes out of every hour you’re on all the time. Your need for content becomes much higher. Your demand exceeds your supply. You simply can’t be as picky because you have to fill that time. Any story, no matter how silly or non-essential to your well-being, is better than dead air.

This is where we are now. Except now with Internet and social media, the market for “news” has grown exponentially.  And there’s an extra twist:

Now we decide what the news is.

By “we” I mean you, me, and everyone else. We, the people. The end-users.

(The following inset is a wonky diversion that isn’t entirely necessary to the thrust of this post but it allows me to show my parents that my communications degree wasn’t a complete waste of money. You can skip it if you like.)

Back when I was in college studying communications, we were taught several theories of how communication worked. Two of the big ones were the magic bullet theory and the two-step theory.

The magic bullet theory (also called the hypodermic needle model) posits that information is a one-step deal. Information is provided by a medium and “shot” or “injected” directly into the recipient.

The two-step theory posits that information flows to the masses in two steps. First it is received by opinion leaders, who then pass the information along to opinion followers.

When I was learning this (in the mid-1980s, right around the time Baby Jessica was being dug out of that well) the thought was that magic bullet was a bit outdated and that two-step was the more progressive model. Now with the big data customization of news we get from the internet magic bullet is being reconsidered.

If you’re reading this, you’re already on the internet. You probably got word of this through social media. So you already know that these days, your news is customized just for you by extremely complicated algorithms. The topics and things you read, search for, purchase, like, and comment upon are recorded, distributed, and regurgitated back to you in the form of more news about that thing.

And now, 1000 words later, here is my point:

You share a post about how horrified you are about the goings on of Westboro Baptist Church. You say you are sick and tired of seeing posts about Donald Trump. You tweet Seriously how the hell are The Kardashians even famous?

They are famous because of you. They are famous because of me.

Now we decide what the news is.

Say what you will about Donald J. Trump, The Kardashians, or Westboro Baptist Church, but there is one thing these folks all have in common: They are marketing geniuses.

There’s an old expression that says “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” These organizations have figured this out. The more you talk about them, in whatever capacity, the more they become a big thing, a “trending topic,” and the more the more mainstream media is compelled to cover them and to discuss them.  It’s what got Trump the nomination, and he is a master at playing this game.

So, where does that leave us? I dunno. I’m an observer, not a leader. But I am reminded of the Which Wolf Will You Feed? parable.  Now that we are the ones feeding the media beast, do we want to feed the one that sows hate, fear, and superficiality? Perhaps there are more attractive beasts to tend to.

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Raisin’ ’em right

by Leslie on April 1, 2016

I strove to raise compassionate children. I think I succeeded. It was one of my big priorities. That they also happened to be hella smart was very nice, but mostly a matter of genetic luck, I think (#humblebrag). Independence was important, too. Didn’t want to send anyone out in the world who couldn’t handle themselves.

But this. This is the icing on the cake. My daughter tweeted this last night. Excuse me while I wipe away a tear:

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PODCAST: Fighting Ebola with Karin Huster

by Leslie on March 30, 2016

What makes a person decide to dive right into the thick of one of the most serious and challenging health crises in our modern times? Join me for a conversation with registered nurse and global health expert Karin Huster

THE GUEST:

Huster Headshot

Karin Huster holds a BS in Nursing from the University of Washington, and her Masters in Public Health – from UW’s Department of Global Health . She worked for 9 years as a Registered Nurse at Harborview Medical Center, 7 of them in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit.

Since 2013 she has been spending her time working in humanitarian emergency settings — in Gaza, then in Lebanon, working with NGOs and UNHCR on Syrian refugee issues. Most recently she has focused her energy on the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she served most recently as the Senior Humanitarian Advisor to the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID branch), focusing on post-Ebola risk reduction programming strategies. She was also a clinical lead of an Ebola treatment unit with Doctors without Borders(Guinea) and Partners in Health (Sierra Leone).

THE DRINK:

The Last Word

To a cocktail shaker filled with ice add:

  • 1 part gin
  • 1 part green chartreuse
  • 1 part maraschino liqueur
  • 1 part fresh lime juice

Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

THE SHOW:

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